Canada: Blocked at the U.S. border, a Canadian orchardist fears he’s been branded a terrorist - PressFrom - Canada
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CanadaBlocked at the U.S. border, a Canadian orchardist fears he’s been branded a terrorist

15:20  13 june  2019
15:20  13 june  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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He stated that he belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a U . S .-designated foreign terrorist organization. The U . S . Department of the Treasury designated its satellite television operation as a terrorist entity in part because employees have been known to conduct pre-operational surveillance

So were Canadian nurses who work at a hospital in Detroit. Scores of Canadians say they've been refused entry CBP officials say a tiny percentage of Canadians are rejected at the border . They told him he shouldn't try to enter the U . S . again without a special waiver that costs hundreds of dollars.

Blocked at the U.S. border, a Canadian orchardist fears he’s been branded a terrorist © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Matthew Soltys, an Ontario father and environmental activist, suspects his political leanings might have landed him on a secretive, U.S.-led terrorism watchlist known as “Tipoff U.S./Canada,” or TUSCAN.

VANCOUVER—Matthew Soltys arrived at the Sunwing Airlines counter at Toronto’s Pearson airport the morning of Feb. 15 with his wife and two young children, excited to embark on a long-planned vacation.

They’d driven through the dark from their family home in Guelph and were planning to visit friends on a Florida farm and do some camping. Soltys had spent weeks reading books on the Everglades to his kids.

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Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. It is not a list of people who could be criminally charged under terrorism statutes, and it is possible that someone could be stopped because they have the same name as a person on the list.

Canadians can be blocked from entering the United States for a host of reasons, from having a criminal record or Canadian -born Manpreet Kooner was rejected last weekend at a Quebec border crossing after being told At the same time he wonders whether the United States is really his home.

But they never got past the check-in desk. Waiting for the family was Sunwing’s general manager, who quietly told them they would not be allowed to board.

“They wouldn’t tell me what was going on,” Soltys said. Instead, he was handed a small envelope.

When he looked inside, “all the background noise kind of faded away.” Inside was a redress form for travellers experiencing trouble, bearing the insignia of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It was happening again; February wasn’t the first time Soltys experienced trouble at the border.

Blocked at the U.S. border, a Canadian orchardist fears he’s been branded a terrorist © Rob O’Flanagan The Hanlon Creek Business Park site in Guelph, Ont., once the site of a land occupation by environmental activists, is seen here four years later, in 2013, as development was underway.

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DERBY LINE, Vt. — Parts of the United States border are marked with tall metal fencing . Other stretches are outlined by snaking rivers. Then there is Church Street in this tiny community in northern Vermont

Soltys, a soft-spoken orchardist who works cultivating fruit trees, fears he’s somehow become a threat in the eyes of Canada and the United States, ensnared by an interwoven network of security databases. Despite his best efforts, Soltys has been unable to find out what he’s accused of doing; all he knows is that the consequences are very real.

According to scholars of surveillance, security and civil liberties, once drawn into the modern system it can be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to get answers or get out.

A clue brings more questions

On Jan. 11, 2017, after visiting the same friends in Florida, Soltys and his family were stopped at the Buffalo-Fort Eerie Peace Bridge border crossing by the Canada Border Services Agency. They sat for roughly an hour while border agents worked on their computers. Then they were released, with little explanation.

Soltys left the encounter feeling rattled and submitted a Privacy Act request to try to get some answers.

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El told him he was “pretty sure what he was doing was illegal.” To the dismay of civil liberties advocates, the U . S . government says it is perfectly The bus and train checks are not new. But they appear to be happening more often near the Canadian border than they did in the five years prior to

There are reports indicating some of these troops are IRGC-QF members and that they have taken part in The kidnapping of foreigners for ransom in Darfur continued, although no U . S . citizens were It had been branded a sponsor of terrorism due to its support for several left-wing terrorist groups

Within a month, he received a photocopy of the notepad used by the CBSA officer who pulled the family aside. Near the bottom of the page, beneath his name and birthdate, was a single word: TUSCAN.

At the time, the word meant little to Soltys.

But a year later, in June 2018, the British newspaper the Guardian published a series of articles detailing a massive traveller screening list maintained by the United States. The database, employed in secret for more than 20 years by law enforcement on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border and revealed to contain more than 680,000 names, is known as “Tipoff U.S./Canada” — TUSCAN.

According to the documents obtained by the Guardian, TUSCAN is explicitly designed “to intercept and potentially apprehend or refuse entry to known or suspected terrorists.” The FBI database is used by the CBSA as one of its screening tools and is designed to streamline information sharing between Canadian and U.S. law enforcement.

The Department of Homeland Security, FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on TUSCAN — advising Star Vancouver to reach out to the Canadian government — including whether Soltys is in the database or is otherwise a concern for U.S. law enforcement.

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These border guards work in pre-clearance zones at Canadian points of departure to the U . S ., like the Vancouver International Airport. Under existing Canadian laws, U . S . border guards' authority on Canadian soil is restrained. He has emphasized the safety and convenience of pre-clearance zones.

The Canada –United States border (French: frontière Canada –États-Unis), officially known as the International Boundary (French: Frontière Internationale)

Canada’s Ministry of Public Safety said the country’s security agencies cannot answer questions about specific individuals, citing classified information. Those agencies did say they don’t contribute to TUSCAN and only investigate legitimate threats to the public.

This month, Soltys said the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, to whom he had complained about the lack of information he was getting, told him the CBSA had pulled him over in 2017 because the border agency was concerned about another “Matthew Soltys” with a different birth date.

Soltys is skeptical. He has a countertheory: that his activism may have landed him on the terrorist watchlist.

An eye on activism

Soltys, who studies biology, is polite in conversation but is also an outspoken and lifelong environmental activist.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been driven by a strong concern for our future,” he said.

In the summer of 2009, Soltys was part of an 18-day protest on the edge of Guelph, an effort to halt the destruction of an old-growth forest slated for development of the Hanlon Creek Business Park. Soltys became an informal spokesperson for the group before a court injunction dissolved the occupation.

Blocked at the U.S. border, a Canadian orchardist fears he’s been branded a terrorist © Tony Saxon Brenda Whiteside, former associate vice president of Student Affairs at the University of Guelph, is yelled at by protesters in 2009 as she leaves the official groundbreaking of the Hanlon Creek Business Park.

In the fall, more than 70 protesters — including Soltys — greeted a busload of civic officials and developers near the site. The protesters, according to Guelph Mercury reporting at the time, became combative, and police intervened.

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But Canada has been used as a launching pad for attempted terrorist attacks against the United States, and the Department of Homeland Security has long If smugglers and criminals are working the southern border and waterways, then surely they know the U . S . border with Canada is open too.

Soltys was one of five protesters to be sued by the joint landowners of the site. The lawsuit was eventually dropped.

In 2006, Soltys was arrested for spray-painting an “existing graffiti wall” in Guelph with a message mocking the label “eco-terrorist.” A judge gave him an absolute discharge — the lowest-level sentence an adult can receive. No conviction is registered, and the charge is automatically removed from an offender’s record after a year.

For six years, Soltys hosted a weekly radio show on environmental and social justice issues. And in 2017, Soltys and his family visited a protest camp in North Florida, where other families had gathered to demonstrate against a natural gas pipeline.

Any of Soltys’ actions could have landed him on any number of police and intelligence databases, according to Jeffrey Monaghan, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Institute for Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Monaghan — co-author of a book on RCMP monitoring, surveillance and infiltration — is friends with Soltys and described him as a “perfectly civil, very thoughtful fellow, who’s far from a dangerous criminal.”

Blocked at the U.S. border, a Canadian orchardist fears he’s been branded a terrorist © Ryan Pfeiffer Hanlon Creek activists including Matthew Soltys, centre, speak to the media outside the proposed Hanlon Creek Business Park site in August 2009. Soltys, a lifelong advocate for environmental justice, believes his history of activism may have landed him on a secretive, U.S.-led terrorist watchlist, known as “Tipoff U.S./Canada,” or TUSCAN.

Citing his body of research, Monaghan said that in the late 2000s, especially in the years leading up to Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics, war on terror resources were increasingly directed toward regular, domestic protest policing.

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The Customs and Border Protection report says while fences have been a big element in deterring unauthorized crossings of the U . S .-Mexican border , "it is unlikely that fencing will play as prominent a role" on the northern border , given its length and terrain that varies from prairie to forest.

“All of a sudden it seems perfectly normal within (security) bureaucracies to start applying war on terror, anti-terrorism resources to someone who is essentially an environmental protester,” he said.

RCMP and Canadian spy agency CSIS scour social-media profiles and attend protest gatherings undercover, Monaghan said.

Paul Champ, an Ottawa litigation lawyer focusing on human rights and public-interest law, said the RCMP and CSIS regularly track demonstrations, creating dossiers on individuals based on their level of participation.

“The spotlight of national security is starting to move away from Islamic extremist terrorists to people who are environmentalists and are just trying to organize politically,” said Champ, also vice-president of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

Michelle Schmidt of the RCMP’s National Communication Services told Star Vancouver the RCMP “does not investigate movements or ideologies but rather criminal activity that threatens the safety and security of Canadians.”

John Townsend, head of media relations for CSIS, said Canada’s CSIS Act prohibits the investigation of persons conducting “lawful advocacy, protest and dissent.”

Trapped in a tangled web

Yet links between security agencies are becoming increasingly tight, meaning an organization can have access to info gathered under totally different policies.

In 2015, a proposal was revealed that would allow CSIS and the CBSA to share resources without requiring the approval of their political masters. And the TUSCAN documents refer to the RCMP’s collaboration with stateside police.

“They’re all integrated,” Monaghan said of the agencies’ databases. “The infrastructures they’ve built produce false positives. They’re meant to be overly precautionary. And they’re meant to be trading all this information.”

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CSIS confirmed it “works closely with domestic and international partners” to “share threat-related information within the Government of Canada and foreign partners.”

In an email, the CBSA told Star Vancouver the border agency “does not contribute intelligence to TUSCAN.” But the TUSCAN documents note that, in exchange for access to TUSCAN, Canada agreed to give the U.S. access to its own no-fly list.

Blocked at the U.S. border, a Canadian orchardist fears he’s been branded a terrorist © Rob O’Flanagan Activist Matthew Soltys in 2013, near the Hanlon Creek Business Park site in Guelph, Ont., where he and a group of demonstrators had staged a land occupation to protest the destruction of an old-growth forest to make way for development.

The “interoperability” and opacity of these databases means getting one’s name removed permanently from the system is virtually impossible, Monaghan said.

“As soon as a person is caught in a database, you’re actually fighting multiple databases, which you don’t even know whether you’re in or not,” he said. “It’s just a Kafka-esque process.”

While it’s possible for Canadians to have their names scrubbed from Canada’s official no-fly list, TUSCAN is under U.S. management. Canada can apply to the U.S. to have a name removed, but the FBI is under no obligation to comply. In its statement, the CBSA did not respond to a question asking how a Canadian might have their name scrubbed from TUSCAN.

Soltys has had little luck pursuing help through official channels. In response to a request with the office of his MP, he was told the CBSA couldn’t speak to the U.S. decision to block him from entering the country in February.

In addition to his own freedoms, Soltys said his situation has left him fearing for the future of his country.

“It makes me feel very upset that in this time where there’s news about the crisis of climate change every day in the mainstream media, in this context, people who are environmental activists are considered terrorists,” he said.

“The government and intelligence agencies see me as a threat to national security … when the greatest threat to national security is the current prediction for climate change.”

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada’s drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

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